Thursday, October 16, 2008



In a small gathering of women in Calcutta, India Manijeh Lessanian, an Iranian journalist asks the women frankly about the core issues of Sex trade, economically and healthwise. The women get the equivalent of US$1.50 for sex, $2 on a good night, less than a dollar on a bad night. To have sex without a condom, men will often pay more or, after a few visits, tell the women they love them. But there's a tragic fact behind their laughter: more than half of the sex workers here are HIV positive.

For the pimps and brothel owners, the sex industry is a multi-million dollar business in which money, not health, is the bottom line. The highest prices go for the youngest girls, many of whom have been kidnapped from other countries and trafficked to India, or sold by their own families into the industry.

Lessanian travels to the Sanlaap Shelter in Calcutta, where she meets a group of girls who have been rescued from prostitution. The girls tell their stories -- fathers and uncles who sold them, madams who held them hostage. None of them was told about the dangers of HIV. They found out only upon arriving at the shelter, and now it's too late. Many of them are already HIV positive.

Although Soliciting for sex is illegal in India, Lessanian sees that the police are often part of the problem. Prostitutes tell Lessanian that when arrested, they're forced to either have sex or pay bribes for their release. And the youngest girls are the most vulnerable.

Even when few of the girls get rescued or run away miraculously, most of their families won't take them back after they've worked as prostitutes. But these girls are the fortunate ones. Thousands of other young girls are left behind. And what happens to them in many ways will determine the future of AIDS in India.

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